Moving from Brooklyn to Italy meant a giant leap forward coffee-wise. I mean, you can get a decent cup of coffee in Brooklyn, NYC but you have to keep up with a lot of bullshit that comes with it.
Because there actually wasn’t any real coffee culture before, people had to get creative. And so product diversity is at its prime in Brooklyn: coffee with milk? Sure! You want cream with that? Or milk? Just milk? Whole milk, skimmed milk, soy milk, almond milk? You want that almond milk skimmed? Okay, apart from inventions as flat whites, frappucino’s, caramel macchiato and what not else, you can amaze yourself looking at your barista. In the hipster era – no longer available in Williamsburg these days – your morning coffee is being served by a young fe/male with an ironic hair cut, heavy tattoos, clad in a lumber jack shirt, topped off with some kind of hat that remains placed firmly on the head, summer and winter. In only 5 minutes and after paying 5 dollars – don’t forget to tip you moron! – you’re free to take your first sip.
None of this in Italy. Having a coffee culture is something that is so ingrained in every Italian being, that they don’t get upset about it. They just serve you straight coffee – an espresso everywhere else – a cappuccino – only for breakfast!- an espresso macchiato – coffee with a stain of milk – or an Americano, which is actually a watered-down espresso. And they make it fast: 30 seconds max. On top of that: a coffee in Italy goes for 90 euro cents, a cappuccino 1,40. Try this in Brooklyn.
I know what you’re thinking. I must be in coffee heaven right now. Well, yes and no. It’s not that I don’t have the right equipment at home. Without any exaggeration I can safely state that apart from two semi-professional ViBiEmme espresso makers, various French presses, at least 4 Bialetti moka pots, and a drip coffee-machine, I have at least 10 coffee pots in my house. Also, the price of coffee consumption in my household has collapsed from 14 dollars a pound – 450 grams – of coffee to 12 euro’s a kilo. So what’s not to like?
Here is the thing. A couple of years ago I suffered from inexplicable nausea. After the baby fat was gone because of a lack of appetite, I felt it was time to see a doctor. He suggested I leave everything out of my diet that might be the culprit of my problems: tomatoes, oranges, hot spices, and coffee. After two very boring weeks food wise, I slowly started to reintroduce the forbidden fruits. Tomato’s? Check. Oranges? Meh. Spices? Check. Coffee? Nausea. O My God! Life as I had always known it was about to change.
What can I say about the last 2 years or so? I reinvented myself as someone who appreciates a good herbal infusion. I’m growing my own peppermint in my abfab garden. I’m experimenting with ginger in my abfab garden. It’s going well. I do like tea. It’s just that I really, really, really miss going into a bar and order a cappuccino to the point that I sometimes ask my fiancé if I can order a cappuccino only to stick my tongue in it, look as if I’m going to drink it, sniff it’s fragrance and then let him finish it. I mean, I’ve quit smoking before. But this. This is torture.
On a recent Sunday afternoon as I was leafing through an old cook book of Antonio Carluccio, I stumbled upon a description of a ‘coffee like drink’ he used to have as a child. It was brewed of a kind of grain: ‘orzo’ or barley. Interesting. Days later in a coffee bar behind yet another pot of tea, I noticed a small coffee machine for making orzo. I decided to try it. I have to say, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t coffee, but it had a bite. It gave some energy. It looked like coffee.
It turned out that every supermarket has a entire section of orzo: ground, whole grains, instant. I took some organic orzo home and started to experiment. Straight orzo coffee: very good. From a moka pot and from the espresso machine, even with some froth. Cappuccino: tastes like tea with milk, don’t go there! I tried to order it at several bars. They just asked me “tall or small”? I tried restaurants: “in a minute signora!” I was half way back in paradise.
This morning I went shopping for a very mundane ironing board at the local shop when my gaze fell on a small golden / black Bialetti moka pot I didn’t already have in my collection. Upon further inspection it turned out not to be just any ordinary moka coffee pot. It was a Bialetti, especially made to brew two cups of orzo! I will never be able to leave this place again. I’m officially in heaven.
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